Category: Graduate Profiles 2024, News, Students

Title: Salamata Bah (MASIA’24) Explores Foreign Policy in Asian Studies

Author: Anna Broderick
Date Published: May 1, 2024

Graduating this spring with a Master of Arts in Asian Studies, Salamata Bah (MASIA’24) has explored and expanded her academic and professional vision far beyond what she expected when she came to the Hilltop. Finding community among her program cohort, faculty mentors, and off-campus experiences has allowed Bah to grow her understanding of Asia and prepare for life after graduation.

“Georgetown was the only place that could provide me with the academic and professional experience I was looking for. I knew that I wanted to develop a deeper understanding of Asia and advance my language skills, but I also wanted opportunities to apply that expertise and knowledge through various hands-on experiences. At Georgetown, there are so many opportunities to do both of these things. I do not think that I could’ve had the journey that I’ve had at any other institution,” Bah says.

Finding Fulfillment and Opportunities on Campus

Through MASIA, Bah found peers who were as driven as she was about foreign policy and Asian studies. In such a diverse cohort, Bah felt heard and supported by her peers. “I value how hardworking, knowledgeable, passionate, collaborative, and supportive my colleagues in MASIA have been,” Bah says. “I learn from them everyday and have gotten to know my peers one-on-one throughout these two years. I am blown away by how amazing they are. I am really excited for what they will contribute to the world as they each embark on their future careers.”

During her time on the Hilltop, Bah found fulfillment through courses, special events, and forging relationships with faculty mentors.

A highlight of Bah’s academic journey was her involvement in Dr. Victor Cha’s book talk for his seminal work, “Korea: A New History of South and North Korea.” Bah co-moderated the discussion along with another MASIA graduate student. The event provided Bah with a platform to apply her expertise on Korea, engaging in stimulating discussions that spanned various facets of Korean history, politics, and society. Witnessing the enthusiastic participation of the diverse audience at the event reaffirmed Bah’s belief in the growing interest in Korean affairs and its relevance to broader geopolitical discourse. “The book talk really spoke to the increasing interest by the general public in Korea and I was excited to be a part of something that advanced greater understanding of Korea and its relevance to U.S. foreign policy and interests.”

Throughout her tenure at Georgetown, Bah found unwavering support and guidance from mentors such as MASIA Director of Academic Programs Robert Lyons and Dr. Victor Cha. “Prior to applying to MASIA, the conversation I had with Robert left a great impression in my mind about the type of community that I would be joining at MASIA. He was so warm, kind, and caring that I knew that I would feel supported in MASIA academically, professionally, and personally. This turned out to be true! It was this impression that made me apply and then eventually choose SFS as my home for the next two years,” Bah says.

Dr. Cha, her faculty mentor, played a pivotal role in shaping Bah’s academic and professional trajectory, offering valuable insights and connections. She says, “although [Dr. Cha] was juggling a million things, he always made time to give professional advice on navigating the DC policy world and advocated for me, connecting me to the right events, people, and opportunities. Thanks to Robert and Dr. Cha recognizing my unique skill set, experiences and contributions, I was able to confidently tackle new challenges and opportunities, and focus on the growth that was required of me to succeed at Georgetown and beyond.”

Bah also met remarkable professors through the courses she took, including her favorite class at SFS: International Relations of Southeast Asia with Dr. Apichai Shipper. “It was the first time I was able to study IR from [Southeast Asia’s] perspective as opposed to the Western perspective that I was accustomed to studying…This process made me reflect on the bias and assumptions that I have when engaging with international relations and foreign policy and to question these preconceived notions. As a future policy practitioner, this was a good practice in always striving for a local understanding of foreign policy and relations and recognizing the limitations of my perspective,” she says.

As Bah prepares to embark on the next chapter of her journey, she carries with her the lessons learned and the relationships forged during her time at Georgetown. Armed with a nuanced understanding of Asian affairs, a commitment to challenging conventional narratives, and a network of supportive mentors, Bah is poised to make meaningful contributions to the field of international relations and beyond.

“My academic and professional interests expanded beyond what I imagined was possible. Prior to pursuing Asian Studies at Georgetown, I was concerned about being pigeonholed to Northeast Asia and the Korean Peninsula. However due to the flexibility of the program and the diversity in expertise by the faculty, I was able to expand my interests and explore all of my intellectual curiosities,” Bah shares.

Preparing for a Career in Foreign Service

Bah’s journey through the Master of Arts in Asian Studies program at Georgetown University was not confined to the walls of the classroom. She actively sought and embraced off-campus opportunities that allowed her to apply her academic knowledge in real-world settings, further honing her skills and expanding her horizons.

Bah is a Rangel Fellow in the prestigious Charles B. Rangel International Affairs Program, which selects outstanding young people interested in the U.S. State Department Foreign Service, especially historically underrepresented members of minority groups, women, and those with financial need. As part of SFS’s commitment to develop the next generation of values-led global public servants, student recipients of Pickering, Rangel and Payne Fellowships are supported through financial aid packages, mentorship programs and tailored career support. From attending informative workshops on government work to joining Dean’s Holiday Dinners, Bah actively immersed herself in these experiences, recognizing them as invaluable supplements to her academic endeavors. “I was really happy to be in this learning space with all of my future colleagues. I actively participated in all of these events and saw it as an opportunity to expand my practitioner skills sets outside of the classroom.”

As Bah prepares for graduation, she reflects on her identity as a first-generation college student; “As a child of African immigrant parents who grew up in the Bronx, I did not grow up around diplomats and did not know I could pursue international relations and foreign policy as an academic or professional path until I got to college. Since my family and I were not able to have a college graduation in 2020, I am so excited to bring my whole family (including my three younger siblings) to celebrate the long journey to get to this point. I am especially proud of all these accomplishments because they reflect the strength and resilience of my family and the communities I come from.”

During the summer of 2023, Bah embarked on an enriching internship at the U.S. Embassy in Seoul, South Korea, where she immersed herself in the realm of public diplomacy. “For 10 weeks, I got to use my knowledge of the Korean Peninsula and Korean language skills to engage with the Korean public and facilitate mutual understanding and support for U.S. policy goals,” she says. “It was a great time to be in Korea as 2023 was the 70th anniversary of the U.S.-ROK alliance. I got to experience various new things such as supporting a TV interview of the Ambassador at his residence, supporting press engagements for all high-level VIP visits, initiating a popular and widely-read daily media report, and planning and facilitating a journalist roundtable for a visiting Ambassador.”

Further enriching her off-campus experiences, Bah pursued internships at two prestigious think tanks, the Project 2049 Institute and the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) Korea Chair. These internships provided her with invaluable opportunities to deepen her regional expertise on Korea and expand her functional skills in policy research, writing, data management, and event planning.

“During my internship at CSIS, I was able to publish my research and writing for the first time by co-writing a piece with Dr. Ellen Kim on the relationship between North Korea and Hamas. I pursued this exposure to the DC think tank world as I believe this experience will be useful in my future career as a diplomat,” she says.

Bah’s proactive engagement in off-campus opportunities not only enriched her academic journey but also equipped her with the practical skills and experiences necessary for success in her future career as a diplomat. Through her diverse experiences, Bah demonstrated a relentless commitment to lifelong learning and a steadfast dedication to advancing mutual understanding and cooperation in Asian affairs.

Life After Graduation

“My lifelong dream is to serve in the Foreign Service as a diplomat dedicating my life to public service. As a Rangel Fellow, I will begin that process shortly after graduation and SFS has played a pivotal role in my journey. As a Public Diplomacy Officer, I hope to broaden the understanding of American values and policies by engaging civil societies of foreign countries to create the ideal environment for U.S. foreign policy and implementation,” Bah says. “The MASIA curriculum not only has given me the regional expertise in Asia, but the program has also instilled in me the necessary communication, analytical, problem solving, and leadership skills required by a diplomatic career. I can confidently move into my career with a theoretical understanding of the security challenges in the East Asian region and the concrete tools that I need to contribute to the development and implementation of policy solutions.”

Bah shares, “​​I will dearly miss the people, whether that be my cohort, the faculty, and the staff. They have been an amazing community to me for the last two years, becoming my home away from home. I will remember all the great memories and moments that we had in our lounge at the ICC.”